Thoughts on Death and Celebrity
Death is the great equalizer: rich or poor, famous or obscure, we all must face that inevitability. Here are some recollections about the passing of Filipino celebrities that made their way into our collective consciousness.
Nida Blanca (1936-2001)
Two years before she was brutally murdered, I had the rare chance of talking with Philippine movie icon Nida Blanca about her thoughts on death. This was shortly before the annual All Saints Day observance among Filipinos.
“I am not afraid to die at this point in my life but of course I want to live longer and still serve my family. But if God wills it, sino naman ako para suwayin Siya?” she candidly said.
It was a known fact that years ago, she had already bought a memorial lot at the Marikina Memorial Park.
During the conversation, she was happily and proudly saying so many things about the convenience of acquiring such memorial plan which included the casket, memorial services and other amenities under the scheme.
“It is but just natural to prepare one’s final resting place. Pag napapadaan ako sa Marikina Memorial Park, binibisita ko pa talaga ang magiging puntod ko. It’s not depressing. It’s not even morbid. At least, hindi na mahihirapan pa ang mga maiiwan ko,” Nida explained and was even smiling. She even described the width and the length of the casket she wanted.
And yet, it came as a complete shock to everyone when, two years later, news of her death spread through the media. Nida was laid to rest in memorial plot that she visited in life.
If her peacefulness in life about the prospect of death was any indication, we can allow ourselves to believe that Nida is at peace—even though her loved ones and fans still want those responsible for her death brought to justice.
Rudy Fernandez (1953-2008)
Cancer-stricken actor Rudy Fernandez made a statement worthy of his showbiz title “Action Prince” in March. During his birthday celebration he declared to his family and friends, “I ain’t gonna die yet,” and even invited them to his next birthday celebration the following year.
By then, his periampullary cancer was already public knowledge and his friends and colleagues in showbiz were united in praying for his recovery.
A few months later, however, after his last round of cancer treatment in the United States, Rudy was already prepared for his final journey. He had a serious talk with wife Lorna Tolentino and told her he didn’t want further treatments abroad.
He knew that treatments were becoming futile and he convinced her to bring him back to the Philippines so he could die in his homeland.
“I don’t want to die in a foreign land,” Rudy said to Lorna.
And yet, even before he became certain of his death, Rudy already brought along LT around the C-5 area near Fort Bonifacio to the Heritage Memorial Park and Crematorium.
Rudy said that he found the place “impressive” so he brought her along to talk to the manager and they were given a brochure describing what was, in his view, a very professional way to “buy a ticket for his final journey.”
It was a chilling moment for Lorna. “Mahirap maintindihan. Malulungkot ka lang pero dapat mong maintindihan. Lalakasan mo lang ang loob at haharapin ang katotohanan,” she said.
Fernando Poe, Jr. (1939-2004)
Philippine movie king and controversial presidential aspirant Fernando Poe, Jr was the sort who could talk easily about death. Whether during a private talk or group conversations, he would always be openly talking about death, in between laughs and serious talk.
“Kung mabuti ang budhi ng isang tao, hindi siya natatakot mamatay,” he once said during a mixed gathering of drinking and non-drinking buddies. He said it as though he was mouthing a bit of cinematic dialogue.
National Artist for Film Lino Brocka (1939-1991)
When actor Joel Alano died at a very young age, the news immediately reached progressive film director Lino Brocka who nonchalantly told his talent manager and PRO Boy C. de Guia--within earshot of several of us with them at the time: “Buti pa si Joel, nauna na, e, mas bata pa siya. Kailan kaya ako?”
De Guia got goose pimples. “’Wag ka ngang magsalita ng ganyan,” was what Boy could only muster at the moment.
Like his typical movies, Brocka, despite his fighting form against all types of dictatorship, could get pessimistic and depressing--although he remained a pragmatist and had a realistic outlook in life.
One of Brocka’s protégés, veteran actor Phillip Salvador, remembers a statement by the former that stays with him till today. “Pagod na pagod na raw siya,” recalled Salvador.
A few days later, the acclaimed, Cannes-nominated director was killed instantly in a car mishap.
Sirens and the princess
Of course, not only do the superstars in showbiz pass away. From time to time, even minor celebrities’ deaths are seared in our collective memory.
Two sexy sirens of the 1980s, Claudia Zobel and Stella Strada, were close friends. It was reported that they used to joke about dying one after the other.
Claudia Zobel died in a tragic car accident and her friend Stella Strada was naturally at her wake at the Loyola Memorial Chapels in Makati City. Those who saw Stella looking sadly over her friend’s coffin experienced a morbid déjà vu when, a year later, Stella also died. She committed suicide.
Before comedian and writer Zorayda Sanchez was struck with the cancer that eventually killed her, she used to joke about how people insulted her looks.
“Alam ko, maganda ako sa paningin ng mga mahal ko, ng nanay ko, ng mga kapatid ko kaya maganda akong isinilang at maganda rin akong mamamatay,” she once cracked, knowing that it was that very appearance that made her a comedy star in the 1980s.
When Zorayda died, loved ones dressed her like royalty in her coffin. She was wearing a tiara like a princess.